Detailed Polk Street Designs: Plans for Safe Bicycling Still “Lackluster”

Polk will get a raised bike lane, but only northbound from McAllister to California Street. Images: Planning Department

The SFMTA and the Planning Department presented detailed plans for Polk Street at the project’s final open house meeting yesterday. The new aspects include specific locations of bulb-outs, dedicated bicycle signals, left turn prohibitions, loading zones, and new trees and landscaping. Plans to improve bicycle infrastructure are still composed of a mix of protected, buffered, conventional, and part-time bike lanes, depending on the stretch and side of the street.

In a blog postthe SF Bicycle Coalition wrote that it is “deeply troubled” that the SFMTA and Supervisor David Chiu have stood bythe lackluster design,” in which protected bike lanes were largely cast aside to preserve parking spaces for a vocal minority of merchants.

Noting the inconsistencies between officials’ Vision Zero rhetoric and the watered-down proposal to improve safety on Polk, which sees the second highest number of crashes of any corridor in the city, the SFBC announced it is launching a David Chiu/MTA Polk Street Body Count clock, a tracker that will count the number people hurt on Polk going forward.

Luis Montoya, project manager for the SFMTA, characterized the compromised safety plans as an appropriate balance. “I think people see that we’ve stuck to what we’ve said the project goals were of improving safety, addressing the specific crash patterns that we see, balancing the needs of the street,” he said.

Polk at California, where the configuration for bike lanes changes.

Between McAllister and California Streets, the northbound bike lane will be raised on a curb, with merging zones for drivers turning right at the streets that allow turns in the eastbound direction. The southbound direction will include a buffered, painted bike lane, running to the left of the curb or parked cars, depending on the block. Bicycle riders will be protected from right turning drivers on that side of the street with separate bicycle signal phases and right turn lanes for drivers.

On the northern stretch, between California Street and Broadway, the southbound direction will have a conventional bike lane running between parked cars and moving cars, while northbound will have a part-time bike lane, with parking banned along the curb during morning rush hours. That ban was originally proposed for the northern blocks between Broadway and Union Street, but Montoya said they will retain full-time parking there because parking bans could exacerbate the double-parking problems on that stretch. Instead, he said planners will add a number of loading zones and green “short-term parking” zones to keep stopped vehicles curbside.

At some intersections like Polk and Geary, conflicts in the southbound bike lane will be reduced by a right-turn pocket and bicycle signal phase.

“The resounding message from people who bike and walk on Polk Street is that the current design is a recipe for mass confusion and dangerous conflict,” the SFBC wrote. “The proposed bikeway zig zags between parked cars and the curb, stops and starts, sometimes completely disappearing for blocks at a time, leaving you hanging while biking and leaving drivers confused and stressed out.”

When asked about the SFMTA Board of Directors’ request for an option to institute a full-length bike lane as a pilot project, SFMTA staff said they weren’t sure what I was referring to.

Meanwhile, Polk’s pedestrian realm will get “streetscape enhancements” like greening and pedestrian-scale lighting, which Montoya said encompasses half the project’s budget. The full plans are available on the Planning Department’s website.

The Polk Street plans must still be approved by the SFMTA Board and the Planning Commission before construction in 2015.

Bulb-outs and colored crosswalks at Polk and Green Streets.
  • sebra leaves

    Don’t know where you get your information. The Supervisors have not had vote on the TEP yet. There is a pending CEQA appeal that they should honor, since it was filed within the 20 day time limit.

  • Jake Wegmann

    OK. What north-south street that is near Polk would you suggest?

    And besides, the cities in the world with the most biking somehow manage to put quality bike infrastructure on the liveliest commercial streets.

  • Jake Wegmann

    I get my information from Streetsblog. And I’m not talking about voting on the TEP, and I’m not talking about the CEQA process. Those are the formal mechanisms, the small-bore details. I’m talking about the bigger picture, which has everything to do with intangible leadership qualities: Ed Lee and David Chiu banging their fists on the table, saying GODAMMIT we WILL build quality bike infrastructure on this street, and we will have the MTA planners’ backs to make it happen. THAT is what’s missing with San Francisco livable streets planning. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day: someone with political power who is prepared to stand up and incur the wrath of a room full of shrieking NIMBYs. If the city’s leadership is not prepared to do that, then they should stop talking in the abstract about San Francisco’s wondrous livable streets innovation, and expend their political capital elsewhere.

  • Jake Wegmann

    Your explanation makes a lot of sense.

  • Jake Wegmann

    I get your frustration with the whole process, and I share it myself. But I just think that you should focus your informed outrage on the right target, so that it has maximal impact. At the end of the day, it’s the politicians who run the show, end of story, in any case that becomes as high visibility and political as Polk Street. Ask any staff person, at virtually level, who works in city government.

  • Jake Wegmann

    Precisely. That seems to be the fundamental dynamic in American local democracy: the process is set up such that the minority who REALLY hate something usually trump the majority who would benefit from something, but don’t really know it because it doesn’t exist yet and therefore it seems abstract to them. So the path of least resistance is to do nothing, or at least nothing that really does anything substantial.

    And in San Francisco, where public participation is a civic religion, the dynamic is even stronger.

    Until we change our processes so that the people who live immediately next to a proposed improvement are no longer effectively given veto power over it, we’re going to keep being frustrated over and over again.

  • Jamison Wieser

    I was on the SFMTA advisory council, chaired the planning committee throughout the TEP process, sat through many public meeting, collected signatures and campaigned for Prop A.

    It all turns out to have been a waste of time and a massive waste of SFMTA money, so yes, the SFMTA can go fuck itself and the truly skilled employees should find jobs with an organization that doesn’t give a shit about anything but parking.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Between all of the north-south running streets there are dozens, upon dozens of lanes dedicated to cars (that Van Ness example, Polk, Franklin, Larking, etc.) you would think one single bike lane wouldn’t be too much to ask.

    But why should drivers have to give up a single lane when absolutely all of them are needed for cars. Cyclists can easily take some other route like riding all the way around the Embarcadero since it takes so little effort for those of us on bikes to add a couple extra miles to a trip while cars are so fragile they cannot possibly be asked to drive on another street.

  • Jake Wegmann

    Hang in there! If you decide to hold the local politicians accountable, you’ll carry a lot of weight because you both understand the issues in detail AND have put in serious time. And if you’re done with this particular issue and would rather spend your time on other things, I totally get that too. This stuff can burn a person out.

  • Gezellig

    Absolutely. Looks like SF is still waiting for its “Stop de Kindermoord” moment, sadly.

  • Gezellig

    Not only is there an absence of a protected N/S corridor there, Polk is pretty much the only flattish (by SF standards) route.

    Had yet another reminder last night of why protected lanes matter…vehicular cycling not only requires someone physically able (and willing) to perform that way, but even amongst the physically able/willing also requires an utter lack of mechanical issues at all times to keep up.

    Despite triple-tied and tucked-in shoelaces, every once in awhile they still come undone. This happened to me last night as suddenly with no warning I discovered my shoelace was entangled in the pedal mechanism, totally immobilizing me within 2 seconds and forcing me to stop cold in the middle of the street. Good thing I wasn’t on a busy street!

    Another time my bike light suddenly loosened and fell off while on the sharrows (which are a huge joke) on busy Ocean Ave. The fall didn’t destroy the light but it’s not like you can just stop and go get it on that road in the middle of traffic. Of course the speeding impatient car behind me immediately drove right over it, crushing it.

    I mean, that’s life, but my point is that despite taking good care of my bike sudden mechanical problems can and do happen and they’re way less of an issue on protected infrastructure.

    No wonder the Interested but Concerned won’t touch even conventional buffered lanes/sharrows/etc. It’s just too high-stress too often.

    And that’s how you have 3.4% modeshare, as opposed to 20%.

  • Jamison Wieser

    This is the same majority argument used to defend laws prohibiting gay marriage. In this case there are plenty of car lanes, but a majority of whiners are car owners who feel the ability for them to get around in motorized vehicles is so important that not even one of the dozens of northbound lanes can be given up so cyclists have a SINGLE northbound lane.

    Even a majority in a poll answered by 100% of San Franciscans favoring parking over bike lanes is disregarding a lot of laws placing tighter and tight restrictions on emissions and a long-term demographic shift away from driving. It is not a matter of opinion that baby-boomers (the largest cohort in the population) are retiring and every year the number who stop driving for one reason or another, children under the age of 16 cannot drive themselves, and generation y/millennials are buy cars and driving at rates I’ve heard a few places are around 2/3 of even generation x. There’s a worldwide moment towards urbanization which will mean an ever greater number of visitors not able to drive either. We are already seeing this happening at accelerating rate, illustrated well by the significant increase in bike trips during the four-year injunction.

    Bay Area Bike Share is only going to encourage more cycling and a single lane isn’t that much to ask. Or just take the selfish view: the more people who bike instead because of safer conditions open up parking spaces for drivers.

  • GC

    Along with the rest of the USA.

  • Mom on a bike

    Yeah, like Murph said it’s Campos…I knew there was a good reason why I put a Campos sign in my window. Screw that guy Chiu. Let’s see how far he gets if we all rally against him on the Polk thing alone.

  • @Gezellig – One-way streets have their own problems, though. The lack of adjacent oncoming traffic is taken by some motorists as a cue to speed.

    That treatment works better in Manhattan, sorta, but there are additional factors such as a much greater number of pedestrians, no right turn on red, and signals on every block.

  • Gezellig

    That’s definitely true–each setup can bring its own problems, but there are also ways to visually and physically calm one-ways to mitigate the speeding issue.

    In addition, the wider sidewalks and protected cycletracks would be a net huge boon to ped/bike safety on the corridor in general.

  • Greg

    Banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Not installing separated bike lanes where there is now parking doesn’t quite rise to the same level constitutionally speaking.

  • Greg

    Per the SFMTA’s study here, a majority of residents and merchants didn’t want the bike lane. You really think Chui would have gone against a majority of his constituents?! He’s only focused on elections.

  • murphstahoe

    You really think Chui would have gone against a couple huge donors?! He’s only focused on elections.


  • Jamison Wieser

    Gay marriage became a constitutional issue when groups of individuals claiming majority rule decided one group of people they didn’t like should not have the same rights even though it doesn’t effect them at all.

    You put forth the exact same, self-centered, majority rules argument and other road users should not have equal access because they are the minority. At least the minority of people who bitch and whine at removing a single parking space.

    By your own reasoning, you shouldn’t have any problem with closing Market Street to private traffic because cars are in the minority compared to bikes. Majority rule is not a good way to do comprehensive planning for a wide range of road users.

  • M.

    ‘We currently have the highest (per capita) government spending of any city in the U.S.’ If that’s even true, it depends on how it’s reckoned. We’re also the highest real estate market in the US so other costs flow from that. And Healthy SF, Greg?

  • M.

    3 of the 5 ‘Es’ of street behaviour are Education, Engineering, and Enforcement. SFMTA is tasked with engineering and some education. SFPD with enforcement and some education.

  • M.

    That’s a backwards approach. At the point you’re enforcing, damage has been done, lives shattered, and $ costs are high. Similar to preventive health care, it’s saner to minimize the likelihood of problems to begin with. That’s why excellent civil engineering and education are crucial.

  • M.

    B.S. Chiu persists in his confirmation bias – he selectively perceives what he thinks exists – and because he has the same extremists constantly whispering in his ear. At the 26 Mar. Open House, he referred to the scary mob at the meeting a year ago and had to be reminded of the rest of us who were quietly listening. btw, Polk runs through three districts: 2 (Farrell), 3 (Chiu), and 6 (Kim). Kim and the Lower Polk community are more supportive/less oppositional and that’s reflected in the current design. Polk’s north end is in Farrell’s dct but most of it isn’t technically included this project, though it’s getting repaved at the same time and we’ve demanded that it get most of the same treatments as well.
    Greg, sounds like you don’t know Polk St. Come with me to the merchants on Polk who know that safety for everyone is good for business.

  • M.

    Find a doctor who will do exactly what you tell him/her you need when you’ve got cancer and you deserve what you get. The principles of civic infrastructure that create thriving communities is well-established and I know for a fact that the dopes who oppose them are clueless. btw, I’m no apologist for ineffective government reps, but they are not overpaid, esp. if you prorate their hours and consider the lamentable cost of campaigns.

  • M.

    Yes, and no. True, leadership to make well-considered decisions and stand by them is lacking all around amongst City, State, MTA, and us. But now everyone’s favorite whipping boy is the MTA and they’re left holding the political bag. Sunday metering, anyone? But no way around that some of the problem is apathy amongst us. Despite the cynicism about it, getting involved consistently and showing up at crucial meetings matters.

  • M.

    The 19 Polk bus is still an important local line and the Transit Plan keeps it on Polk going both ways so that precluded making Polk one-way. After the Van Ness BRT is implemented, that could change. For one, using smaller vehicles makes sense.

  • M.

    As tragic as that incident was, it was a media moment and it’s wrong to make decisions only in reaction to it. e.g. the current plan calls for a bulb-out there but that intersection has not been one of the worst for crashes. We need a plan that addresses the worst intersections *and* safety on Polk as a whole.
    Our cultural blindness means that we’ve thought of crashes as just unfortunate fallout from living and the cost of doing business, which in our culture has trumped all else. Same with highway deaths. Hopefully, that’s changing.

  • M.

    At a recent City meeting, SFFD was forced to concede that traffic congestion and individual drivers not moving aside are by far the biggest obstacles to their getting to sites – not bulbouts, nor bike lanes, nor narrow streets, etc.

  • M.

    And they become livelier. SF is being really complacent – other cities are increasingly more attractive for business and are leapfrogging way ahead with streetscape.

  • M.

    Yes, yes, and yes!

  • sforick

    Yet all those things intentionally used to create narrow lanes and congestion are part of the reason cars have no place to go to get out of the way. Think about raised planted medians vs painted medians – no space for emergency vehicles vs space.

  • M.

    I’m unfortunately really well-versed on this back story and it’s an ugly one. If you find you aren’t disgusted enough by this story and want more misery, write

  • M.

    Yes, it does. Been doing this for more than a year. The problem with good leadership is that no one knows what that looks like and it’s mistaken for authoritarianism in this p.c. town. Anyone who puts their heads up gets shot down. It’s impossible to save a city from itself.

  • M.

    as far a s we’ve seen it’s less about huge donors, more about avoiding controversy. All the more pathetic.

  • M.

    A thoroughfare is a thoroughfare, not a proprietary piece of turf. Imagine airport or other road design being dictated by ad hoc local residents. Disaster.

  • M.

    Haha. Thanks, 2of3jays. I’m really glad you got something out of my comments because I’d promised myself not to spill anymore ink here but had to jump in after the Polk Open House.
    Just over a year ago, I fell down the Polk rabbit hole when the outrageous lies and bullying reached a peak. I’ve been a professional in both medicine including public health, and am an architect not practicing now. I founded Folks for Polk and have been active with all players, including trashing my quality of life and health by attending the NIMBY’s meetings too. It ain’t over ’til the SFMTA Board ‘sings’ this Summer. Come see what we’ve been up to on our site and on social media.

  • M.

    A: Fewer people driving. Suggesting that people drive less is like depriving an addicted baby of it’s pacifier.

  • Gezellig

    Ah, yes, I guess that does make sense. Though it could go along Larkin or something for the northbound trip–lots of buses in the area operate like that.


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